“So, where do you think you want to settle down?” “It’s great to get that out of your system before you settle down.” Increasingly, people’s comments toward me seem to reflect the assumption that some day, I’ll “settle down.” This is probably only the beginning: When I’m in my 30s, the question will likely turn to “So, when are you having kids?” But for my 20s, “settling down” it is.
It’s not entirely clear what people even mean by this, but I imagine it looks something like buying a house or spacious apartment with a significant other, getting married, and having kids. At the very least, it means signing a lease — which I haven’t done; I’m a digital nomad, changing locations every few weeks or months.
When people learn this, they find it cool and interesting, but many don’t really take it seriously. Instead, they ask where I’m going to settle down, as if this lifestyle were just a stepping stone to something else. In reality, it’s the opposite: For me, having an apartment was a stepping stone to becoming a digital nomad. I planned my life and work so that I’d be able to travel nonstop. “Settling down” is what I spent years trying to get away from.
People get even more curious when they learn I’m in a relationship, and the questions turn to “Are you going to move in with him?” and “Where does he want to move?”
Aside from the assumption that everyone wants a permanent location, these questions reflect a lot of assumptions about relationships. Some couples never want to move in together, and some relationships are great for the time being but not the long-term. Not everybody wants a life partner, and even when they do, not everyone wants to commit to only them.
For a while, I thought I had to end my relationship because I didn’t want to settle down with my partner. If it wasn’t “going anywhere” according to the conventional definition, what was the point of staying in it? Then, I realized that “going somewhere” means something different to me than it does to other people. It doesn’t mean progressing toward marriage and children, because I don’t want that.
“Permanence means very different things today than it did during the time of baby boomers,” Steve Dean, a digital nomad and online dating consultant at Dateworking.com, tells Bustle. “Boomers grew up in a time when our social contract was much more solidly in place — you could trust that if you work hard, get a job, and keep at it, you'd be able to make a decent life for yourself. Millennials didn't grow up with notions of having a stable job, a spouse, two kids, and a white picket fence. They grew up during a time in which the last trappings of the American Dream were rapidly fading from view.”
To me, taking my relationship to the next level doesn’t mean having a white picket fence. It means being more radically myself with my partner. And that, in turn, means being honest about the lifestyle I want. It means him accepting that I want to spend more time traveling than I do with him and that I don’t have a long-term plan for our relationship. It also means him genuinely being OK with that. Having these conversations and knowing he embraces who I am — not a tamed version of me that’s tailored to appease him — makes our relationship feel far more mature and evolved than “settling down” would.
I don’t want other people to feel pressure to end their relationships because they think it’s the only option other than settling down. I want people to ask for what they want before assuming they won’t get it. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and it can mean whatever you and your partner want it to.
If you fantasize about a house in the suburbs where you can both work 9-5s and raise your kids, then maybe settling down is for you. But if you don’t want that, there’s no reason you have to move in together or get engaged or even be monogamous. Think about what your goals actually are, and craft a relationship that supports them. After a lifetime of being taught that “settling down” is the only way to go, that’s what I’m finally doing.